Jeff Green

Getty Images

Report: Richard Jefferson may be odd man out with Cavaliers

2 Comments

The Cleveland Cavaliers have 16 players with guaranteed contracts in training camp.

They can only carry 15 into the season, which means someone is going to get paid not to play.

That may be veteran Richard Jefferson, reports Jason Lloyd at the Athletic.

First off, backup point guard Kay Felder, who is on a partially guaranteed contract, almost certainly will be let go. Then it gets to the guaranteed contracts on the wing, and the Cavs have LeBron James, Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, and Cedi Osman. That’s a lot of depth. Even though the Cavaliers turned to Jefferson during the NBA Finals last season for regular rotation minutes, that was really about the need for wing defenders, which he still did better than most on the roster. This season there is that depth.

What the Cavaliers would prefer to do is trade Jefferson because it saves them money — he is on a $2.5 million contract but with the repeater luxury tax hit he costs them $10.5 million. Trade him and all those costs go away, but the Cavaliers will struggle to find anyone interested in the 37-year-old unless they attach a sweetener (a likely second-round pick).

Either way, it looks like Jefferson’s run in Cleveland is done.

Three questions the Cleveland Cavaliers must answer this season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, won the Eastern Conference out of the second seed, lost to Warriors in NBA Finals.

I know what you did last summer: It was a busy summer of roster changes, something you don’t usually see from a team that has been to three straight Finals. Kyrie Irving didn’t want to be the guy left behind if LeBron James bolts the team next summer, so he pushed for a trade. New GM Koby Altman struck a deal that sent Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn first-round pick in the upcoming draft. In the past week, the Cavaliers signed Dwyane Wade as a free agent (after his buyout from Chicago). Gone from the Cavaliers are Deron Williams and James Jones, but the team added depth with the trade and the additions of free agents Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Jose Calderon.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CAVALIERS MUST ANSWER

1) When does Isaiah Thomas get back on the court? And how well can he move? The trade with Boston was a perfect combination for Cleveland of keeping an eye on the future (the Brooklyn pick) and still winning now in LeBron’s prime by getting All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas — if Thomas is healthy. Which he is not right now. The hip injury that ended his playoff run early still has him sidelined.

When will he return? On media day the Cavaliers were honest and said January. About halfway through the NBA season. Which creates a challenge for those first 40 games or so (see the next question) but is not insurmountable because the Cavaliers have one LeBron James.

The bigger question: How good will Isaiah Thomas be when he does return? I fear we saw peak Thomas last season, when he was an All-NBA player and fifth in MVP voting. How well with Thomas move when he returns, how explosive will he be? Can he be anything like the spark plug point guard we have come to know? His game is based on that athleticism and crafty moves, if those are limited so is he. It matters to Cleveland as they try to integrate him into the offense for the playoffs — if they get 90 percent of that Thomas it is a big boost for the Cavs, but if it’s 70 percent things get tougher. How he bounces back also matters to Thomas, who is a free agent after this season and needs to show he is healthy to get paid anywhere near what he wants.

2) Cleveland has a lot of talent, but does it fit together? On paper, the Cavaliers are deeper this season — Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose at the point, J.R. Smith, Dwyane Wade, and Kyle Korver at the two, Jeff Green behind LeBron on the wing, Jae Crowder adding to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson up front. There’s a reason I — and many others — are still picking the Cavaliers to come out of the East.

But when you start to put rotations together, things get harder, because all the talent doesn’t fit together well, especially for the first half of the season when Thomas is out. For example, can the Cavaliers really play Rose and Wade together with LeBron? Neither Rose nor Wade are good off the ball, they need the rock in their hands to create to do damage, but neither of them is near the creator or floor general LeBron is. Do the Cavs take the ball out of LeBron’s hands in this scenario? Remember, this is not the Wade from LeBron’s first couple seasons in Miami, this is a guy on the decline who can still create but is limited in other ways. Plus, both Rose and Wade (and Thomas when he returns) are limited defensively.

I like what Tyronn Lue is doing to start games: Rose, J.R. Smith, LeBron, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love. That is a switchable and passable defensive lineup that will have great floor spacing on offense. Rose can create a little, but most of that should still fall to LeBron. It gets better when Thomas is back and Rose can go to the second unit with Wade — those two can do the shot creating and scoring with that group against other benches, and Tristan Thompson can handle the defense and dirty work with that unit. (Credit Thompson for taking his move to the second unit, which most would see as a demotion, as an opportunity.)

Cleveland has the talent to beat 28 other teams in a seven-game series, but the questions of fit come back to haunt them against their biggest foe. If the Cavs are still playing in June.

3) Does the “is LeBron staying?” saga weigh on the team? Probably not. Or at least not much. This is a team of veterans who know how to shut out the noise from the outside.

However, every move this team and LeBron make all season will be viewed through the prism of “what does this say about LeBron’s future?” And if for whatever reason this team gets off to a relatively slow start and things start to go sideways, that pressure will ramp up. If that losing starts to creep into the locker room — J.R. Smith and Crowder get into it again, Thompson gets frustrated with his bench role, or a million other things — then it becomes a problem. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s possible. This could be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, and that certainly can become an issue.

Report: Doc Rivers finished as Clippers’ president

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
8 Comments

The Clippers lured Doc Rivers – a championship-winning coach – in 2013 with the promise of autonomy and a roster led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

They haven’t gotten what they bargained for.

For the last few years, the Clippers moved through Paul’s and Griffin’s primes without advancing past the second round. Despite a couple notable hits – J.J. Redick chief among them – Rivers repeatedly mismanaged the roster around the edges.

Now, the Clippers are stripping the president/coach of that first designation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is returning Doc Rivers to the primary duty of head coach, freeing him of front office responsibilities, the owner told ESPN on Friday.

Rivers, who held the title of president of basketball operations, will continue to have a strong voice in personnel and organizational matters and will partner with Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, Ballmer told ESPN. Frank will now oversee basketball operations, including the general manager.

Both Frank and Rivers will report directly to the owner. Frank and Rivers enjoy a strong personal and professional relationship, which has allowed for them to cement a shared vision on the franchise’s future.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

https://twitter.com/sam_amick/status/893535296762949632

Rivers just never seemed able to grasp the complexities of roster construction. Among the lowlights:

  • Attaching a first-round pick just to dump Jared Dudley (who would’ve been productive for the Clippers) while still taking back and stretching Carlos Delfino (who would’ve productive for the Clippers) and Miroslav Raduljica – all to stay under a hard cap the Clippers seemingly unknowingly triggered
  • Trading for Austin Rivers, who – despite developing into a rotation-caliber player – invites charges of nepotism that contributed to a disjointed culture
  • Trading a first-round pick for the overrated Jeff Green, who was on an expiring contract then left the following summer

Rivers helped DeAndre Jordan reach his potential, but that was more a product of coaching than front-office work. Now, Rivers is back in a role where he’s a proven success.

This is a quick rise for Lawrence Frank, who joined the Clippers as an assistant coach, got promoted to the front office and will now run the operation. He apparently learned something about internal politics in his time with the Nets.

It’s unclear how Jerry West fits into the new structure.

Rivers’ job is now much more straightforward: Design and implement a game plan to succeed without Paul, who’s now with the Rockets. The Clippers have a hodgepodge of interesting new pieces: Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. How do they fit with Griffin and Jordan?

It’s on Rivers to answer that question – and no others. If Rivers can’t make it work, it’s on Frank to make the bigger adjustments.

Report: Suns willing to trade Eric Bledsoe, Dragan Bender, first-round pick for Kyrie Irving

21 Comments

We keep hearing whom the Suns won’t trade for Kyrie Irving.

Not Josh Jackson. Not Devin Booker.

What would Phoenix trade for the Cavaliers point guard?

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

The Phoenix Suns are the team to watch on Kyrie Irving. Now, they won’t offer Josh Jackson plus that Miami 2018 first and Eric Bledsoe. I’m told they’ll do Bledsoe. They’ll do the pick. Plus, Dragan Bender.

That’s not a bad offer value-wise.

Bledsoe, though a downgrade from Irving, is a good starting point guard when healthy. Bender, the No. 4 pick last year, is still just a teenager who was expected to be somewhat of a project. And that Heat first-round pick – top-seven protected in 2018 then unprotected in 2019 – could prove quite valuable.

But there are reasons Cleveland hasn’t pulled the trigger.

Bender looked out of place in the NBA last season. The Cavs’ title window is open right now, and they don’t have a clear way to develop him. Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Jeff Green should leave very little playing time available at center and power forward. Even if Bender comes along more quickly than anticipated, his strengths – passing and shooting – matter less on a team that would never need to put the ball in his hands in key moments.

Jackson, on the other hand, could help the Cavaliers on the wing, where they need more depth. Though just a rookie, Jackson is actually older – and projects to be more ready – than Bender. Jackson’s defense would help a team with major deficiencies on that end.

But there are also reasons the Suns are offering Bender instead of Jackson.

Irving is locked up for just two more years, didn’t include Phoenix among his preferred destinations and won’t commit to anything beyond his current contract. The Suns might not win enough in the next two seasons with Irving to justify trading Jackson (under team control for five more seasons, though likely far longer if he pans out).

These teams sound close enough that a deal sounds plausible.

Maybe Phoenix relents and includes Jackson. After all, acquiring Irving is a special opportunity.

Perhaps, the Cavs loop in a third team and flip Bender for someone who fits better in Cleveland. But three-team trades are always difficult to pull off.

Still, it sounds as if the Cavaliers and Suns are at least in the ballpark of each other – something that can’t be said of other teams in the Irving sweepstakes.

Cavaliers try to convey confidence amid their own star crisis (crises?)

6 Comments

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the Pacers could have done better in their Paul George trade – a bold (though correct) public critique from someone who had to apologize for his handling of the last time he lost a star and is staring down the prospect of losing another star this summer and the original star again next summer.

What was supposed to be a press conference introducing new general manager Koby Altman today predictably turned into an examination of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request and LeBron James2018 free agency.

“This thing is not broken,” said Altman, who takes over a team that has reached three straight NBA Finals – winning the 2016 title – but now faces immense peril.

Both Gilbert and Altman kept their assessments of Irving’s trade request close to the vest, not even confirming it occurred. But even NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said he assumes reports of Irving’s request are accurate.

Gilbert said he planned to call Silver, clearly part of an attempt to project stability. That was the transparent underpinning of the entire press conference, which included Gilbert saying he felt better about hiring Altman than any prior general manager. The plan went awry when Gilbert stumbled through an answer about why he’s never given a general manager a second contract and why the Cavs couldn’t lure Chauncey Billups, who turned down leading the front office and later said he knew of Irving’s discontent and labeled it “alarming.”

But Gilbert did give his assessments on the franchise’s biggest issues.

On LeBron’s future beyond this season: “We do not control all the cards we get dealt.”

On whether Irving will be in training camp: “Right now, Kyrie Irving is under contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for two or three years, depending on the last year. So, as of now, he’s one of our best players. Sure, we expect him to be in camp.”

In context, Gilbert sounded as if he was merely saying he expected every Cavalier under contract to be in training camp until their contract status changed – not that he was predicting Irving wouldn’t be traded this offseason.

All reports are that the Cavs are proceeding as if they’ll trade Irving, though Gilbert also brought Kobe Bryant’s infamous 2007 trade request. Kobe and the Lakers reconciled, and he won two more titles in Los Angeles.

“I’m not saying that that happens here,” Gilbert said. “But the possibilities of what will happen are wide.”

The Cavs at least left the door open publicly for Irving returning. Altman downplayed any animosity between the team’s stars, echoing LeBron’s tweets. But Irving’s issues with LeBron appear to be deeper and different than face-to-face resentment, and this summer’s saga hasn’t necessarily helped.

Altman called LeBron “deeply committed to this team and deeply committed to this city” and Irving a “core piece of who we are and what we do.”

Yet, the new general manager wanted to expand discussion beyond those two.

“It’s interesting,” Altman said. “We’ve had an active offseason that I wish some of you would talk more about, in terms of what we’ve done.”

The offseason LeBron reportedly deemed frustrating?

Altman gets a pass for David Griffin’s departure, which clearly rankled LeBron. But Cleveland’s signings – Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, Cedi Osman – leave plenty to be desired, especially as the Warriors load up. A championship looks even further from Cleveland.

With the goal so high and future so turbulent, Gilbert and Altman faced an uphill battle in projecting stability today. Luckily for them, this isn’t the true measure of success.

But things that matter far more – navigating Irving’s trade request, re-signing LeBron – might not be much easier.